The paradox of autonomy? Flexible working is making us work longer


New research on EU and UK workplaces suggests when workers are unshackled from strict business hours, they work longer — especially men. Could this help public sector productivity, or exacerbate an existing problem?

Freedom is slavery. George Orwell, 1984.

Imagine if you could work whenever and wherever you wanted to. Would you work less and enjoy more time with family and friends? Or would you end up perpetually working, have work spill over into the rest of your life?

Many do not have to imagine what this freedom is like. Roughly a third of all employed workers in the UK have flexibility over their working hours and about a fifth of people work from home on occasion. Across the EU, about 17% of all employed workers have access to flexitime, which means their work start and finish times are flexible. Another 5% have full autonomy over when and how long they work.

Contrary to what you might expect, those with more control over their work schedule work more than those with less control. In fact, people have a tendency to work more overtime hours once they are allowed to work flexibly, compared to when they were not.

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